Shooter Came to US on Fiancé Visa

by AP
December 5, 2015

Washington – The woman who carried out the San Bernardino massacre with her husband came to the United States last year on a special visa for fiances of US citizens, raising questions about whether the process can adequately vet people who may sympathize with terrorist groups.

Authorities said Friday that Pakistani citizen Tashfeen Malik, 27, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and its leader under an alias account on Facebook just moments before she and her husband, Syed Farook, opened fire on a holiday banquet for his co-workers Wednesday, killing 14. They later died in a gun battle with police.

Tashfeen Malik
Tashfeen Malik

Malik, who had been living Pakistan and visiting family in Saudi Arabia, passed several government background checks and entered the US in July 2014 on a K-1 visa, which allowed her to travel to the US and get married within 90 days of arrival.

Malik was subjected to a vetting process the US government describes as vigorous, including in-person interviews, fingerprints, checks against US terrorist watch lists and reviews of her family members, travel history and places where she lived and worked. The process began when she applied for a visa to move to the United States and marry Farook, a 28-year-old Pakistani-American restaurant health inspector who was raised in California.

Foreigners applying from countries recognized as home to Islamic extremists, such as Pakistan, undergo additional scrutiny before the State Department and Homeland Security Department approve permission for a K-1 visa.

“This is not a visa that someone would use because it is easy to get into the US, because there are more background checks on this type of visa than just about anything else,” said Palma Yanni, a Washington-based attorney who has processed dozens of K-1 visas. “But fingerprints and biometrics and names aren’t going to tell you what is in somebody’s head unless they somewhere have taken some action.”

The government’s apparent failure to detect Malik’s alleged sympathies before the shootings will likely have implications on the debate over the Obama administration’s plans to accept Syrian refugees. Attorneys representing Farook’s family deny that he or his wife had extremist views.

On Friday, ABC News reported that the address in her Pakistani hometown that Malik listed on her visa application does not exist. In response to a question about the ABC report, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: “We are actively reviewing all of the information provided in the visa application and sharing it with our interagency partners as it relates to the investigation.”

The vetting process for refugees is similar, though not identical, to the one for fiancé-visa applicants.



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